Does Your Diet Make You an Asshole?

To get to the answer to the question straight away: it might.

This was brought up in a study reported on Msnbc.com, part of which states:

…new research has determined that a judgmental attitude may just go hand in hand with exposure to organic foods. In fact, a new study published this week in the journal of Social Psychological and Personality Science, has found that organic food may just make people act a bit like jerks.

“There’s a line of research showing that when people can pat themselves on the back for their moral behavior, they can become self-righteous,” says author Kendall Eskine, assistant professor of the department of psychological sciences at Loyola University in New Orleans [ed: also known as ‘Captain Obvious’ by his friends]. “I’ve noticed a lot of organic foods are marketed with moral terminology, like Honest Tea, and wondered if you exposed people to organic food, if it would make them pat themselves on the back for their moral and environmental choices. I wondered if they would be more altruistic or not.”

You can see where this is going. They administered tests to a number of people that sounds kind of arbitrary to me (go read it yourself if you’re interested) and concluded:

“There’s something about being exposed to organic food that made them feel better about themselves,” says Eskine. “And that made them kind of jerks a little bit, I guess.”

Why does eating better make us act worse? Eskine says it probably has to do with what he calls “moral licensing.”

“People may feel like they’ve done their good deed,” he says. “That they have permission, or license, to act unethically later on. It’s like when you go to the gym and run a few miles and you feel good about yourself, so you eat a candy bar.”

It think our researcher here is right – and wrong.

I like this notion of ‘moral licensing’, but it doesn’t just occur in people who eat organic food.

An asshole is created any time a person’s behavior or circumstance permit them to fall victim to the delusion that they are better than someone else, or are somehow qualified to be a moral ‘decider’ for others.

It’s easy to see how eating organic, with its high cost and the sheer amount of trouble involved, would engender in people the desire for a greater payback than the quality of the food they by. Self-righteousness comes free with every organic product – if you choose to take it.

By extension, ANY DIET can come with a dose of self-righteousness that can be applied to people on diets that differ, or people who don’t diet at all.

I’m going to hit the local farmer’s market this morning and see what my farmers got growing. I’ll pass on the self-righteousness.

Of course, the problem with being an asshole is not knowing you’re being one. It happens all the time. That’s why I invite anyone who reads my blog to point out any ‘pot calling the kettle black’ behavior on my part.

Lastly, I love the response one person has to this self-righteousness in others as reported in the article:

“At my local grocery, I sometimes catch organic eyes gazing into my grocery cart and scowling,” says Sue Frause, a 61-year-old freelance writer/photographer from Whidbey Island. “So I’ll often toss in really bad foods just to get them even more riled up.”

 

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3 thoughts on “Does Your Diet Make You an Asshole?

  1. Hmmm…I hope I catch myself if I become judgmental of another’s eating choices. God knows I’ve done some crazy, unenlighted eating (still do sometimes) I hope I don’t feel superior, but sometimes I feel a bit guilty for still being able (finacially) to purchase what I consider to be superior food choices…and I feel very sad for so many people that don’t know or understand this and are still believing the BS that we’ve been indoctrinated with regarding Low Fat, Low Cholesterol, etc. …I still eat bacon, with nitrites, and sometimes I eat whatever’s available in the cafeteria at work and in restuarants, so I’m obviously not a purist anyway…but what you write here is a good reminder, because I did realize about a year into my new way of eating (Low Carb, as organic/local as possible) that no one else really wants to hear about my new religion and I should just keep it to myself unless asked. Many time’s I’ve wanted to tell someone “The Good News” about this WOE and realized my results are a much better “Witness” and NO ONE loves a Diet Evangelist! (I really liked your last post too and your call for “Civility in Alternative Nutrition”…seriously! Let’s be grownups).

  2. I, once, unloaded my cart of food right behind the food of a righteous organic whole foods, low fat kind of guy. Whippet thin. And I caught him, like a deer in the headlights, looking at my bacon, sausage, cheese, heavy cream and family paks of ground beef like he had fallen into his worst nightmare. I made eye contact and smiled at him. It was one of my best days on Atkins.

    • HaHaHa! Love it. I have a brother-in-law like that. He’s super thin, lean, athletic and eats low-fat everything. His poor wife is quite heavy and struggles to eat the way he does and lose weight (it’s not happening)…poor thing, I tried to explain LCHF to them when I first started but he laughed at me and was horrified @ my stupidity. Now, I just take food I can eat to the family pot lucks and listen politely as they describe the wonders of low fat “healthy” eating-meanwhile he’s trying to get his cholesterol down and his wife is trying to lose 80 lbs. Sad.
      Today we head out of town to eat dinner with the other sister-in-law who is vegetarian (not for health reasons but because she can’t bear the thought of eating poor, helpless animals…I guess)…she also eats & serves microscopic portions, so I will eat real food on the way there. Gotta keep the peace.

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